Edited to correct that I named the Fucking Wrong Author. It’s Alan Moore! Gah, Pop Will Eat Itself even has a song about that. UGH! I am terrible.
Ok, so I was talking to the Geek Husband What Rules about watching the Watchmen, and he went off on a rant against it, the comic as well as the movie.
To an extent he had a point. Grittiness in comics really does have it’s genesis in the Watchmen, more or less. But the GHWR’s problem isn’t actually so much with the source text, but with its imitators and fanboys.
To be blunt, Mark Millar is Alan Moore’s fault.
Frank Miller, some of Garth Ennis’s catalog of work, etc…
He went off on a rant about how Moore felt the need to make The Comedian a complete bastard, having him be a rapist, shooting the Vietnamese woman he’d impregnated, that he all but crushed puppies.
And this led to me doing something I rarely do, which is defending Moore.
You have to remember that at the time, Vietnam was still fresh in the minds of people of Moore’s generation, especially things like the Mai Lai massacre, where American soldiers behaved every bit as badly as the Comedian. The US were not the heroes we would to believe in Vietnam. Things got ugly.
In the 1980s a whole lot of unsavory things were coming to light about the behavior of the US. Such as our collusion with Pinochet, accusations against the School of the Americas, and our treatment of people here at home.
Regardless of whether these things were conscious inspiration, they had to be running around Moore’s head. They were international news. And I don’t know if Moore saw him this way, but The Comedian seems to be to be a distillation of the very worst the US establishment had to offer.
Other heroes are treated more kindly, yes, even Rorschach. But they are not depicted as flawless. Nite Owl has trouble getting it up, until he and the second Silk Specter beat up some gang members and put the costumes back on. Ozymandias is an arrogant self-aggrandizing prick who thinks he knows best. Dr. Manhattan has long lost touch with his humanity. And Rorschach is so rigidly uncompromising in his positions and attitude, so dogmatically biblical in his vengeance, that he is really difficult to cope with, let alone reason with.
The first Nite Owl reminisces about his time as a hero with the same fondness former football team captains use, although he wasn’t running touchdowns, he was beating up and killing other humans.
None of them are perfect or untouchable, they are all flawed human beings.
Now, granted, you can definitely write flawed, realistic characters without descending into gritty.
But first reactions are often extreme.
And Moore was pretty much the first.
His fanboys, however, feel the need to try to outdo him. Garth Ennis with The Boys*, Mark Millar with, well, everything he’s ever touched. Frank Miller’s entire career from the late 80s on.
With them it seems to be less commentary and more a dick-measuring contest.
Who can go for the gross out? The worst of the worst that can still pass as hero?
While I understand that without Moore’s Watchmen, we would not have the Millars, Millers and Ennises of the world, it also isn’t entirely fair to blame Morrison for them.
*I love Preacher, but The Boys is just gross.